Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Howard Jones on The Roots of Arabian Fantasy (on SF Signal)

Awhile back, I wrote about my experience moderating a panel on "Islamic fantasy" at World Fantasy Convention. On of the panelists was Howard Andrew Jones, whom I had not met before but whose name I recognized from the small amount of research I was able to do in preparation. Howard was a delight (actually, all the panelists were wonderful, but in different ways) and his knowledge of Middle Eastern folklore and the traditions of written literature of the Muslim world were a wonderful resource for the panel. I especially enjoyed how he would offer some bit of fascinating scholarly background and then apologize, with genuine modesty, for going on in such detail -- when the rest of us were going, More! More! I wished I could have taped or transcribed the whole thing to share with you.

Now Howard's article on Arabian fantasy is up on SF Signal here: so you can get a taste of the discussion, and an eensy bit of the benefit of his knowledge. Here's an excerpt:

[The] version of the 1001 Nights we have today is not the same as the version from the 10th century, or the 15th century. More and more layers were added by succeeding storytellers. A few generations after the 8th century when they lived, Haroun al-Rashid and his best friend and vizier, Jafar, were dropped into the story mix, sometimes adventuring in Baghdad in disguise at night. In later centuries, characters and place names from Muslim Egypt were added. When Antoine Galland assembled his collection of Arabian Nights in the 1700s and launched a sensation, he used some stories that he claimed came from a Syrian Christian. They're probably of Middle-Eastern origin, but perhaps it shouldn't really matter. (I'm not really troubled by this sort of "cultural appropriation" because it strikes me as essentially good natured. I liken it to someone excitedly joining a game that is already under way. Should that person be excluded because they lack the appropriate ethnicity? Should the Indians have excluded the Persians, and then the Persians the Arabs, from joining in the fun? Why then should we dismiss Antoine Galland because he is an 18th century Frenchman, even if he invented rather than found Ali Baba and Aladdin? All of the tales were created by someone, some time, and Galland's "discoveries" are pretty nifty.)

Doesn't that make you want to click over to SF Signal and read the whole thing? And then rush out and get Howard's books? It does to me!

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